We’re continuing Brief Lives, with Reformed Republican and Jaybird recapping Chapters 3 and 4, respectively.
A Doll’s House recaps here: KatherineMW took on the first two issues, then the next two issues. KatherineMW and Jason Tank then reviewed the fifth and sixth, respectively. Mike Schilling reviewed the final two issues.
Dream Country recaps here: Glyph reviewed Calliope then Jaybird and Maribou reviewed Dream of a Thousand Cats in the first review post for Dream Country. Alan Scott reviewed A Midsummer Night’s Dream then Mike Schilling reviewed Façade in the second.
Season of Mists recaps here: Jaybird reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank reviewed the next two here. Boegiboe reviewed the next two after that here and here. Ken reviewed the final two here.
Fables and Reflections recaps here: Ken and Jaybird reviewed the preview plus the first two issues here. Mike Schilling and Jaybird did the next two issues here. KatherineMW did the next issue here. Glyph, Ken, and Russell did the Sandman Special issues here.
Brief Lives recaps here: Jason Tank recapped Chapter 1 and Mike Schilling recapped Chapter 2 here.
It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!
As the chapter opens, we are introduced to the idea that there are people hidden among us that are truly old. Not simply Hob Gadling old, but people from prehistoric days, people from the time of the first Atlantis, and even “people” that are from before the formation of the Earth was formed. Cut to Bernie Capax, a lawyer who is one of the Truly Old. He can remember the Marquis de Sade, who was not as impressive as depicted in popular culture, and he can remember mammoths from his days as a child. He has lived a long time, but that life is ended beneath a pile of bricks. He meets Death, who is not impressed by his fifteen thousand years. After all, he lived a lifetime, like we all do.
Now we join Dream and Delirium, travelling the waking world. Once again, Delirium is looking for a word, but this time there is not one. Dream patiently explains to his sister the reason for their travels. Inside a travel agency, the secretary is less than helpful. Delirium is also less than helpful. As an aside, the artist does a great job here, in still frames, of depicting Delirium’s constant motion, while Dream is almost a statue. After enough stonewalling, Dream has had enough. He orders the secretary to tell Mr. Farrell that they had wine in Babylon. Meanwhile, Del is searching for another word, but this one does not exist either.
Mr. Farrell is having a rough day. Are his days always like this, or are there always many unexpected accidents that he must deal with? Regardless, he has no patience for visitors, but his attitude changes when he is reminded of Babylon. He is honored by the visit of Dream and his sister. Again, Dream shows a high level of patience helping Delirium remember her list of their missing brother’s friends. She leaves to go find it, in the last place she would look, and returns with new hair, new clothes, and a list. There are for individuals, The Lawyer (we just met a lawyer, briefly), The Alderman, The Dancing Woman, and Etain of the Second Look.
Now we meet Etain, who is trying to wake up and remember the details of a dream about a house that was a poem. Suddenly, spurred by some unknown instinct, she flees her house, just before it explodes. We leave her in K-Mart. It seems that Del’s list might be a dangerous one to be on.
Leaving Etain to find new clothes, we meet a painter, though if his dog is a good judge, he is not a very good one. They head into the house, and the dog hears a strange sound in the room in the back. They go to investigate, finding a churning pool and the sigils of the Endless. It is the family room, which confirms that the unsuccessful creator of art is Destruction, the Prodigal. The churning pool is a sign of one thing: Big Trouble.
Delirium discusses the joys of flying, and why clouds are much nicer from planes than they are when walking in them. She learns that Mr. Farrell was a god who quit being a god, after receiving advice from Dream. Delirium is surprised that one could stop being a god. Dream says you can stop being anything, but he does not have an answer when asked about their brother.
Dream turns his attention to a little girl, who was discussing dreams with her mother. Whether he is interested in the talk of dreams, or just escaping the question he does not want to answer, if not clear. He teaches her a few things about Dreams, and they are not reassuring, but she seems satisfied with his answers.
The plane lands, and they are greeted by their driver, Ruby. They sneak out a back way and are shown their car. Delirium really wants to drive, but Dream does not approve. They head off to meet Mr. Capax. Delirium is looking for another word, for things not being the same, the way we know time is happening. Ruby does not know the word, but this time Dream has an answer. Change.
The benefit of having the narrator on our side means that we get to visit, however impersonally, some of the friends that Dream and Destiny are trying to find. We begin Chapter 4 with one of them. The Alder Man. (The alder is, coincidentally, a member of the birch family.) He’s far enough North to be in a place where night doesn’t arrive in midsummer, and it’s midsummer enough for him to know that the Northern Lights shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing (according to the wikipedia, the aurora borealis/australis are at their peaks during the equinox… pretty much as far away from the solstice as you can get).
This inspires the Alder Man to check on his “death traps”. They look like little dreamcatchers woven into the trees but we find out that they’re actually warning signals… the death trap facing the south has been torn to shreds. The Alder Man nods and knows what to do. He casts a fairly complex spell that involves turning into a bear and biting his shadow away from his feet. His shadow then becomes a Simulacrum of himself who thinks “Hey, I’ve always been the Alder Man” (except without a shadow) and he, the original, becomes a bear who thinks “Hey, I’ve always been a bear.”
And that’s the level of game you need to be able to lay down at a moment’s notice in order to escape destruction.
Speaking of which, we return to Dream and Delirium discussing Dream’s eyes, or lack thereof. Nothing is settled, of course, but it’s a wink to everybody who was writing letters asking about Dream’s eyes.
They arrive at the home of Bernard Capax to hear the bad news from Chapter 3… and Bernard’s son, Danny, really, really needs a couple of old gods to talk to. He leads them both to the basement where we find out just a little bit more about ol’ Bernie. Danny thought his dad was a boring old guy… but in his office, he found 200 Krugerrands (now, I had hoped that the picture would help me figure out how much that’d be worth but… well, the Springbok as depicted on the coin is on the 1oz coin, the 1/2oz coin, the 1/4oz coin, and the 1/10oz coin… assuming 1oz coins (because why assume smaller?) and assuming that Chapter 4 was released around December 1992… the price of gold was around $335/oz… so that suitcase would have been worth about $67,000 in 1992 dollars. It’d be worth $272,000 today), he found a kilo of heroin and a kilo of cocaine (I can’t really find accurate prices for such things… but the cocaine was probably worth around $60K if it was, in fact, a kilo), fake passports, weapons, a Picasso… it’s like you know a guy your whole life and you know he’s square… and the next thing you know, you’re finding gold, drugs, fake passports, weapons, and a Picasso in his belongings.
While Danny is processing all of this, Delirium has found some bubble soap and has been blowing bubbles, allowing us to see one burst in front of a framed child’s drawing of Bernie (“My dad is a lawyer”). Pop.
Having found out that the lawyer died of a stupid accident, Dream and Destiny go back to the car to hit the road some more… to be thwarted by the fact that the driver is merely mortal. She tells them “hey, I will need to get my sleep tonight. We’ll drive a ways and then hit a motel. Get our rest, then get going first thing in the morning.” After finding that she, seriously, has to explain this in detail to someone for whom this fact is not readily apparent, they get to a motel that is modern enough to require key cards in 1992.
Three entities, three adjoining rooms, three key cards. Dream asks “which room is mine?” and just opens the door and walks through. Ruby, the driver, finds herself saying “but wait you forgot your keycard…” as he departs from them. Destiny throws out a cute little joke “I don’t think he likes keys anymore.” Delirium then takes her keycard and turns it into a key before she uses it to open her own bedroom door. The then lies down on the bed and blows bubbles into the air. Fantastic bubbles. Alarm clocks, ice cream cones, cats, and crosses.
We visit Ruby and find out about her: she aspires to be rich. Really, really rich. (She got herself into a job where she might find herself with contacts who can help her with that, it seems to me.) She wants to be rich more than she wants to find a husband… she thought she fell in love, once, but the guy didn’t pass a simple credit check. She lies down on her own bed enjoying the last cigarette of the day. These things are going to kill her. And she muses on d(D)estiny, and love, and thinks about him a little bit.
We visit Delirium… just in time to see Delirium let herself go. We see her try to reach out and touch Capax but, yep, he’s dead alright. Tentative feelers toward Etain and… we can’t really find her. Is she still even in this plane? Push out out to the Alder Man and there’s no purchase but when she thinks toward The Dancing Woman she achieves Contact. We see a dressing room in a Gentleman’s Club where various dancers are dealing with one of them being nauseated enough to be unwell and the drama that this fact, and the fact that they’re in a dressing room in a Gentleman’s Club, is capable of generating. For a brief second, Tiffany is overcome by Delirium and she tells Ishtar, The Dancing Lady, that she will see her soo-ooon.
Cut to Dream. Dream puts in a Skype to Lucien. This is the 1992 equivalent of checking your email while on vacation, I guess. How’s stuff going back at the office? Do you need anything? Are you sure? Oh, while you’re on the line, if you do some research on the folks who may be trying to stop me from finding my prodigal brother, I’d appreciate it. Not that I’m trying to find him, of course. Lucien assures Dream that he will… and then adds, strangely, that despite meeting Destruction only a few times, Lucien liked him. This manifests, for Lucien, as wishing that Dream will be able to find him. Dream has an interesting response of his own: “My brother abandoned his responsibilities.”
They hang up… and Dream goes into himself and it is his turn to remember one of the last times he hung out with Destruction… and it looks like we’re somewhere around the middle of the beginning of the Enlightenment. Waistcoats, buckled shoes, prisms, and autopsies.
Destruction had, apparently, asked Dream for a chat. Dream, with The Corinthian in tow, shows up. Destruction confesses that he’s been spending more and more time in the mortal world… to have his confession interrupted by a pickpocket choosing Dream as a mark. Dream takes a moment to lay the smack down upon the pickpocket (who also notices Dream’s wacky eyes) and he gives the pickpocket a fortunetelling. By the time Dream really gets into the details of the hanging, the pickpocket can’t get rid of the dream jewel fast enough.
Destruction: You could have simply taken it back from him. You did not NEED to do that.
Dream: I do not tell you how to conduct your affairs, Brother. I must confess I see no reason for you to tell me how to conduct mine.
Which brings us back to Destruction’s confession… and Destruction’s eyes are in shadow.
“And this is what the Invisible College has become” (This gives us a date, kinda… if the change is official, we’re at least at 1660 when the Invisible College became The Royal Society. The Royal Society has a handful of sketches of Orangutans dated as early as 1757.) That’s not the giveaway, though. The giveaway is, of course, the song.
Lavender Blue, the song is. The earliest evidence of that song we have is somewhere between 1672 and 1685. (There’s a straightforward version of the song here, a Michael Jackson (!) cover of the song here and a Marillion (!!!) cover of the song here.)
So that’s where we are. The Royal Society in the late 17th Century.
And Destruction explains to us what is going down: Reason. It is, apparently, “no more reliable a tool than instinct, myth, or dream.” We see the prism and a quick discussion of “opticks” and then that evolves into something that Glyph pointed out last week: more focus on eyes. The Corinthian removes the eyes from the Oran Oatan and… well, does what he does with eyes. As the Corinthian does his nightmarish work, Destruction explains to Dream that he’s seen this crap before, the evolution of where these thoughts lead. The ordering of the rainbow leads to matter and light being intraconvertable and that leads to bright lights indeed. The big bang. The loud explosions. He seems to be dreading seeing this happen one more time… the age of fire and flame…
And we’re back in the hotel and, speaking of flame, Dream is surrounded. Firemen are kicking down doors and telling folks to get the aitch-eee-double-toothpicks out of there. Dream, being Dream, has a handful of questions… primarily, how did the fire start? (Ruby’s cigarette started the fire… and Ruby’s dead.) Where is my sister? (Out in the parking lot.)
Which is where we go to see Dream processing the trip so far. Reason is the (destructive, remember?) tool he’s using and he’s rolling over the thoughts that his driver has just been killed by a cigarette in bed (and Dream seems to take personal responsibility for that), and the first person they were going to visit “chose yesterday to be hit by a falling building”… and he asks Delirium if she knows where he’s going with this…
And Del comes to the conclusion that this means that she gets to drive.
What could possibly go wrong?